Getting Control of Your Workday

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Ian is an automated testing system architect for a software maker. Vijay is a network administrator for a large university. Each is greeted Monday morning with an urgent project that needs attention: One of Ian’s co-workers says a performance script continually hangs an NT test suite (and shipping is only three days away!), and Vijay gets a frantic call from the Admissions department, where all the computers are down and students, as well as administrators, are getting cranky. In the meantime, both are contacted by other users with issues requiring immediate troubleshooting. And so it continues throughout the day, each task interrupted by another, allegedly more urgent request.

By 6:00 p.m., both Ian and Vijay feel as though they’ve spent the day running from one crisis to another, but there’s a difference. Ian knows exactly where his time went. Vijay’s day, on the other hand, remains a blur. What can account for the difference? Unlike Vijay, Ian implements timesaving, productivity-boosting strategies. Here are some tactics used by professionals like Ian that can help you gain better control over your workday:

Make a List and Check it Twice
One method you can use to bring an out-of-control day back on track is to document your progress as you work. Just jotting down each task as you start it will help. Capture the time it takes to do each project and reprioritize your upcoming tasks accordingly. In addition to offering a summary of what you accomplished, that list of 10 or 20 items will give you a psychological boost on days that were so busy you felt you got nothing done. You’ll also have a log of your work to show your manager.

Communicate With Your Boss
Don’t forget to check in regularly with your boss to make sure you’re working on the right projects. Yes, you were hired because you can make independent decisions, but on occasions when you realize you’ve got five remaining tasks that rate top priority but only three hours left in the day, it’s better to consult your supervisor than to guess which jobs should come first. It’s not a weakness to talk to your boss on an extremely busy day and say, “These were the things I thought I was going to be working on today and here’s what I ended up working on—am I still on track?”

Asking for guidance is also a good way to show your manager what you’ve got on your plate. The higher your boss is in the organization, the less likely it is that he or she is aware of all the extra requests you typically receive. Just presenting the list of assignments you’re attempting to complete can be helpful. It could make your case for more resources, or an extension on lower-priority items.

Finally, offering an analysis of your work log will support your request for an increase at salary-review time. Over the course of a year, even significant projects can recede from memory, but a file folder or electronic journal will help you recall your important achievements.

Countering Productivity Barriers
While you’re evaluating your activities, make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself by engaging in the two biggest productivity killers: procrastination and disorganization. To counteract procrastination, break down imposing projects into more manageable tasks. Smaller tasks aren’t as overwhelming and you’ll be less likely to put them off until later. Assign reasonable goals and deadlines to each phase of an initiative and note tasks with which you’re likely to need help. Again, talk to your manager about your concerns. If there’s any part of the project that can be delegated, do so.

Personal disorganization can thwart your progress, too, so constantly strive to keep an orderly workspace. Take the time to set up a filing system that works best for you. Then try to handle each piece of paper only once, deciding whether it should be filed, processed, passed on or thrown away. And be careful that your process pile (things requiring action) doesn’t get too high.

Take Control!
Technology professionals will always be strapped for time: They’re expected to debug their programs, research storage solutions and train the new hire—all without missing a beat. Many factors combine to create that “out of control” feeling, but if you develop sound time management and productivity-boosting strategies, you’ll have the tools to take charge of your work day.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job search services at



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